In the first five tips on how to put together a successful networking event I discussed some of the key things you need to consider before you are even ready to open the doors. We now turn our attention to the event itself and what happens after the last person has left.
6. Sharing details
People like to know who is going to be at events they are planning to attend. It helps some decide whether it is the right event for them, while others like to be aware whether they are going to bump into people they have met before, and maybe make arrangements with other guests.
Giving out a printed guest list on arrival isn't the solution to either challenge. It is much better for people to have access to the guest list in advance to help them plan for the event. (Although you should encourage attendees to be open to random connections too.)
To overcome the administrative problem of putting a guest list together, keeping it up to date and not sending it out before everyone has booked, there are a host of social media sites that allow guests to register, pay and maintain their details. When I run events I use www.eventbrite.com, while www.meetup.com is another useful resource. Make sure you don't use a membership site which prevents non-members from registering if your event is open to all.
The other advantage of guests registering themselves online is that you can allow them to manage what information they share about themselves. Traditionally a lot of guest lists give away phone numbers and email addresses of everyone attending, much to the dismay of people who subsequently receive a lot of Spam. You should never give these away without permission.
For my events I invite people to add their website, Twitter username and LinkedIn profile link. That should be plenty to allow people to reconnect after the event.
7. The shape of things to come
What should your event look like? If you've followed Step One, you'll have a clear purpose for the event and know what you want to achieve. That should drive the format you choose. What do you want your attendees to go away having achieved and how can you best help them to get there?
If you are using a structured format, ensure you leave plenty of time for people to network with each other on arrival and before they leave. People will want the opportunity to catch up with old friends and connect with people they have identified as useful contacts and you need to afford them that opportunity.
If you are planning to invite a speaker, make sure that you are comfortable in advance that they will add value. Have they spoken at other events? If so, can you find out if anyone in your network has seen them speak and can give you feedback or speak to the organisers who booked them previously? Be clear with your speaker about whether you are happy for them to promote or sell their products or services from the platform. Your key focus should be your audience, not your speaker.
If you bring in someone who presents for a living rather than to promote their products or services, respect that and don't just expect them to speak for free. If you can't afford to pay their fee, seek to find out how you can make sure speaking at your event will be a worthwhile exercise for them. Be as proactive as you can in supporting them and you will attract good speakers.
Don't let your format get predictable and stale. If people experience the same thing every time they attend it will soon become easy for them to pass on future meetings as they know what they would miss. Encourage interaction with some creative interactive exercises and strive to involve your participants as much as possible.
8. The host with the most
Your work doesn't finish once people turn up. As host it's your job to make sure no-one is left alone. Many people are uncomfortable walking into a room full of strangers, so you'll often find shy types hovering around the edges of the room and the bar. Look out for them, try to find out who they'd benefit from meeting and make introductions for them. Once they're in conversation they should be fine, but just try to ensure that everyone is comfortable.
Many people find it useful to have name badges when they attend networking events. Ideally these will attach with a clip, rather than a pin, as not everyone wants to stick pins through their clothing. Even better are magnetic badges. These are great if you are running regular events, you can design a template carrying your branding and ensure everyone's name is clear and looks professional.
Hopefully you'll have caterers you can rely on but keep an eye on food and drink to ensure that there is always enough available. If serving alcohol always make sure there are plenty of soft drinks as alternatives. And if serving tea and coffee also do the same.
9. When the music's over
When the last person has left you can sit back, put your feet up and congratulate yourself on a job well done...well, for a short while anyway.
You should send out a follow up email soon after the event. Keep it short and sweet but you can use this opportunity to send a link to the attendee list to everyone who came (following the guidelines above of course), encourage them to follow up with people they met, let those who didn't come know what they missed and thank everyone who helped put on the event, linking to their websites if appropriate.
If you are running a series of events, share details of the next event and where people can book.
10. Regular meetings
If you are going to host a regular series of meetings there are a few additional things you need to consider.
Don't take on the entire organisation yourself. Involve a team of people and spread the burden. I have seen so many groups start off wonderfully but lose momentum because the only person running them has lost enthusiasm and been taken for granted.
Are you going to meet at the same venue on a regular basis and will you meet on the same day and time on a regular basis? If venues and dates are likely to change, make sure you communicate details well in advance of each event.
If you plan to charge people for membership be aware of the tax implications, the need to be able to refund unused memberships if the network closes down and what the terms and conditions of membership will be. Even if you are going to run the network as a non-profit enterprise you are going to be entering into a commercial arrangement with your members and need to take that into account.
Best of luck with your event(s) and I hope it produces all of the results you seek. Please do share your own tips and experiences on this blog too.
If you'd like more detailed advice on running networking events, my 2005 book Building a Business on Bacon and Eggs, co-authored with Terence P. O'Halloran and Stephen Harvard Davis is available in book and kindle formats on Amazon.
Follow Andy Lopata on Twitter: www.twitter.com/andylopata